Review: The New Ultimate Direction Women’s Ultra Vesta and Adventure Vesta Hydration Systems

For the past couple of years, I’ve been such a fan of Ultimate Direction’s Ultra Vesta hydration system that nearly all of my running photos show me in it, as if I permanently had two little 10-ounce bottles for boobs.

See? Here’s a picture of “the classic” Ultra Vesta from Ultimate Direction’s women’s-specific Jenny Collection:

As you can see, I was in a good mood while racing the Diablo Trail Challenge half marathon. Photo by my buddy Nate Dunn, who was so nice to be out there.

So when Ultimate Direction came out with a new-and-improved version—and also launched a women’s version of the larger-capacity SJ Ultra Vest (which I use for longer, unsupported treks)—you bet I was excited to try the new vests. What follows is a review of the Ultra Vesta (which I wore for the first time last Saturday on a 20-miler), and a preview of the Adventure Vesta (which I haven’t fully tried out yet).

Full disclosure: I’m sponsored by Ultimate Direction and consequently got these vests for free, and if you decide to buy them by clicking on the links below, I will get a very small commission. But I hope you’ll read on and trust my review, because I would not promote their product unless I truly preferred it to others on the market. Also, it’s satisfying to know that I and other runners on their team gave input on the earlier versions of these products, and they used our feedback to make these improvements.

First, it’s worth asking, why run with one of these vests? Why not use a combination of hand-held bottles and/or a waist pack with bottle holders? Everyone has different preferences, but I strongly prefer and recommend hydration vests with bottles in holsters on the shoulder straps for three reasons:

  1. You’re more likely to run symmetrically and have an efficient, strong arm swing if your hands are free. I used to run with one 20-oz. bottle in my left hand. I finally realized that this one-sided bottle was throwing off my form, exacerbating imbalance and fatiguing my arm muscles. The only time I’ll run with a hand-held now is when I use the small 10-oz Fast Draw 10, for short runs when I don’t want to wear a vest. Sometimes I’ll use a Fast Draw 10 in both hands, for a total of 20 ounces on hotter days, so my arm swing stays balanced and my arms don’t get too tired from the weight.
  2. If you only use a hydration bladder (aka reservoir) in back, like the traditional Camelback design, then you cannot see how much liquid is left. Also, it’s a pain and time consuming during a race to get it out for refill.
  3. The weight and tightness of a waist belt with bottle holders can irritate your gut or lower back, and on some people it tends to ride up and bounce.

The new version of the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta ($134.95) looks slightly larger than its predecessor but fits snuggly, eliminating bounce, and at 8.6 ounces (without the bottles) weighs barely more than one-tenth of an ounce more. I’m 5’7″ with a 35″ chest and wear the M/L size; it also comes in a XS/SM.

My chief complaint about the first-generation vest was its pockets were too small; and, if I wanted to use an optional hydration reservoir in back, it was difficult to get it in and out. The new Ultra Vesta takes care of this and offers many other subtle but significant improvements. Here’s how it looks front and back:

Sarah in Ultra Vesta front

Sarah in Ultra Vesta back

5 Great Things About the New Ultra Vesta

1. 17-oz soft Body Bottles instead of 10-oz hard bottles: Regardless of what hydration vest you use, if it has pockets, then I encourage you to buy some soft-flask Body Bottles for it instead of using regular plastic bottles. I have fallen in love with these bottles because they feel better on my chest, they’re easier to drink from, and you don’t need to pull open a valve; you just squeeze and suck on it. They collapse on themselves as they empty, so they get smaller and free up pocket space. Most delightful of all, since there is no air remaining in the bottle once you start drinking from it and squeeze the air out, they do not make a sloshing noise. I had become so accustomed to a slosh-slosh white noise while running that I was pleasantly surprised to hear the quiet when the Body Bottles eliminated that noise.

Two of these Body Bottles means I can carry up to 34 oz of liquid up front, instead of just 20, which is a welcome addition, as 34 is usually enough to get me between aid stations in races even on hot days, eliminating the need for added hydration either in a hand-held bottle or in a bladder in the back.

The 17-oz Body Bottle. UD also makes a smaller version, but I like this size.

The 17-oz Body Bottle. UD also makes a smaller version, but I like this size.

2. Bigger pockets for the bottles and bigger front pockets for phone, calories & other stuff: I no longer have to worry about having everything I need quickly accessible in front pockets (e.g. gels, phone to take a photo or check a map, toilet paper in a baggie, small tubes of sunscreen and anti-chafing lube, etc…)

Here’s the old (left) vs. new (right) side by side. The bottle pocket is deeper, and it’s a handy place to shove your gloves when you don’t need them. The lower pocket on the new one is big enough to hold my iPhone 6. Also note the better, more breathable mesh fabric on the new one:

Old and new UD Ultra Vestas

3. A much easier way to get the hydration bladder in and out of the back: If you need extra liquid, you’ll want to get the 70-oz reservoir (sold separately) to use in the back pack. The new Ultra Vesta has a zipper that curves from the bottom all the way across the top so it’s much easier to get that full reservoir bladder in and out, and to attach it to the velcro tab at the top, like this:

Ultra Vesta reservoir holder

4. More nifty, better-designed pockets in the back: In addition to the main compartment in back, which has an inner pocket for the reservoir, the new Ultra Vesta has two horizontal pockets in back (whereas the old one had one big vertical one and a smaller one on top), making it easier to organize and separate things. It also has an expandable outer mesh pocket where you can put bulky stuff, which is especially useful for wet clothing. Here, you can see I shoved my ultra-lightweight yellow Women’s Marathon Shell jacket (which I also highly recommend and wear all the time) in this outer mesh pocket.

Ultra Vesta back pocket view

5. It’s the little things that count: The other features that make this a great vest include the trekking pole loops, the adjustable sternum straps, the key clip (which comes with a ponytail holder, a signature feature of all Jenny Collection products and a nice touch), a compression bungee to attach more stuff like extra clothing (and the bungee cord hooks on those tiny hooks on the edge, so you can get a tight fit for awkward-shaped items), and a built-in safety whistle.

One little complaint: The safety whistle is attached above the left bottle holder, which makes sense insofar as that’s close to your mouth and therefore easy to blow if you’re in trouble. But, the plastic whistle bangs on the top of the bottle, making an annoying noise. You have to securely tuck the whistle down so it doesn’t pop up and rattle against the top of the bottle.

The Adventure Vesta

When I needed a vest with more capacity—say, for an all-day trek or an extra-long, unsupported run—I would use Ultimate Direction’s SJ Ultra Vest 2.0, an excellent vest, especially for men. You can see it here in this pic from a year ago in New Zealand. Only problem: It felt too big—too wide, to be specific—and consequently rubbed and bounced when I ran with it.

Thankfully, Ultimate Direction introduced a similar pack especially designed to fit better around a woman’s smaller frame and breasts. This is the new Jenny Collection Adventure Vesta ($149.95), and my first impression is that it is awesome! But, I haven’t tried it out beyond putting it on in my back yard and jumping up and down, so I recommend you watch this short video for a full tour of its features. I can’t wait to try it on a real outing.

One of things I noticed and liked right away: It has Velcro side tabs for very easy adjusting around the waist. It’ll be nice to tighten or loosen this when I’m on long runs or hikes, depending if my tummy feels bloated or if I need it more snug.

IMG_5561

It also has a clever system for holding trekking poles up front, so they would be easy to slip in and out (whereas trekking poles held in back necessitate taking the pack off and on repeatedly). There are extra trekking loops in the back, along with an ice pick loop. This vest is built for serious adventure, to be sure! Here’s the rear view:

IMG_5563

If you get either of these vests, let me know in the comments below what you think of them.

One last note: Please don’t give me grief about having a perfect green lawn in drought-stricken California! Several months ago, we had our dead lawn replaced with pet-friendly artificial turf so we would not need to water it. I never thought I’d have fake grass, but it’s great!

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31 Responses to Review: The New Ultimate Direction Women’s Ultra Vesta and Adventure Vesta Hydration Systems

  1. Megan February 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    Ran with the new Ultra Vesta this weekend for a 50k. LOVED it. Completely agree about the body bottles. Very easy to use and quick to fill at aid stations. The separate zip pockets in the back are an improvement – it was easy to grab more gels from the bottom pocket. And the larger front pockets held what I needed quick access to. Very pleased that I ordered this!

    • Yoko February 15, 2016 at 10:43 am #

      Did the body bottles bounce up and down as you ran? Are you happy with front pockets capacity? I’m very close to order the new version!

  2. Megan February 16, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    Yoko, no the bottles didn’t bounce. Pockets are bigger and I could fit my iPhone 5s in the front zip pocket with a little extra room. Highly recommend!

  3. KristinZ March 7, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    hahahahaha! i can’t believe someone would read through an excellent and detailed review of a pack and then comment on your grass. 🙂 happy trails and see you in july!
    I am curious about the adventure vesta… will be fun to see in person sometime!

  4. Ashley March 28, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your reviews. I know you mention your iPhone 6 fits in the front zip pocket on the Ultra Vesta – does it also fit in the pocket located in the same spot on the Adventure model?

    • Sarah March 28, 2016 at 9:40 am #

      Yes, it does!

  5. goldy March 30, 2016 at 6:19 am #

    Hi Sarah, how about your adventure vesta? Is it also the M/L size? Does it fit very well? Thank you.

    • Sarah March 30, 2016 at 6:33 am #

      Yes! It’s also the M/L size and fits great.

      • Rachel August 19, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

        my question was on sizing…
        I have the original ultravesta in a M/L as was on the upper end of measurements for the smaller vest. But i have heaps of room still to adjust the straps.
        Was wondering what sizing was like with the adventurevesta as I am unable to try one on where i live. I fall in the same place with regard to measurements and not sure if I should go back to the smaller size or stick with the same. I have a chest measurement of about 94cm.
        I mostly run in just a shirt but there will be the odd occasion when travelling interstate and events where I might have to layer more.

        • Sarah August 20, 2016 at 2:07 am #

          I would size down and get the small for the Adventure Vesta. My M/L is slightly loose even when tightened fully.

  6. Wendy April 25, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

    Amy updates on the velcro in the Adventure Vesta? I just wonder if the velcro will hold with repeated washings?

    • Sarah April 25, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

      I have only washed mine a couple of times and it has held up fine.

    • Rachel September 26, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

      Ive washed the bag once and the velcro is done 🙁 I feel ripped off and would expect it to hold up longer than 2 months and 1 wash!

      • Sarah September 27, 2016 at 5:25 am #

        That’s too bad! I’ve washed mine in cold water several times and don’t have a problem with the velcro. I usually close the velcro tabs however so the velcro doesn’t get snagged on fabric on other clothing in the washer. You should contact Ultimate Direction and let them know.

  7. Lisa May 1, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    Hi Sarah! I just got my Vesta and I love it! I’m wondering if you have any tips for keeping the bottles from sliding down in the pockets? Thanks!!!

    • Sarah May 1, 2016 at 10:55 am #

      No, not really unfortunately; as the collapse down on themselves, they get lower in the pocket so you have to reach in to pull them out.

      • Lisa May 1, 2016 at 11:27 am #

        Okay, thanks for the reply! That’s what I was doing so I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing a trick :). Thanks!

  8. Lindsey Henslee May 20, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    Sarah,
    Great review! I was wondering what the difference is between the old model and the new on the running vests. I think REI has them (I have a giftcard!) I already have a 70oz bladder for long treks. I just need a lightweight running vest, instead of my bulky REI 14er pack, it’s too heavy for trail runs. This looks perfect! I just got a new dog, I can fit her collapse bowl and a water for her too in the pack. Perfect!

    Changing subjects if you don’t mind… what GPS watch do you run with? I want to get rid of my polar heart rate strap and go strapless, along with altimeter, distance and calories. Those are my main features. I think Suunto is only altimeter? I have already warned myself the price won’t be cheap. Just wanted your opinion. Thanks! Happy Trails!

    • Sarah May 20, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

      Thanks for your comment! The watch I use is a FitBit surge. The GPS and altimeter seem very accurate, but unfortunately, the wrist based heart rate monitor is not very accurate.

  9. Karen May 23, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    I love the Vesta but I find the bladder bounces around a lot – any tricks for securing it?

    • Sarah May 24, 2016 at 5:22 am #

      Hi Karen, I haven’t had that problem, but I usually have stuff stuffed in the outer pockets in back, around the bladder, so maybe that prevents the bouncing. Perhaps you could stuff a lightweight windbreaker in there with it or something like that.

  10. Brenda June 8, 2016 at 4:04 am #

    Hi

    Apologies if someone has asked this and I have missed it, but how is the sizing with the ultra vesta – I’m 5ft 2″ uk size 10, not sure what size to order?

  11. Alexa June 12, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    Hi Sarah, thanks for your detailed review. I bought the ultra vesta recently and have used it twice. I can’t decide if I love it or hate it…I’ve only used it with the two front bottles and I’m having a difficult time preventing them from bouncing. Any advice?

  12. Jampuppy July 12, 2016 at 6:54 am #

    Love this review! Very helpful! I have read that the trekking poles rub when in front. Has anyone tried running with them on the back?

  13. Greg August 14, 2016 at 7:42 am #

    How much stuff can you fit in there? Could you fit a 2L bladder, windbreaker, extra shirt, small hat and gloves? Or would one need to Adventure version?

    • Sarah August 18, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Yes to everything except the windbreaker and extra shirt would make it tight; however, you can put attach a lot on the outside w/ the bungee cord.

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